Attended my first AWP conference this week and participated in WWPH’s panel on running a small press. 12K writers converged on DC and our sprawling convention center for 3 days of panels, readings, a massive book fair and that kind of casual social freedom people have when being amongst their own kind. Lots of smiles, Twitter poses and reunions. Nose rings, natural hair styles, beards, colorful patterns, jeans, tweed, signs of the #resistance and funky eyeglasses were everywhere. Oh, and there were protests too. Being on the periphery of the MFA-writing world, this was all very familiar and somewhat distant at the same time.
I enjoyed the presence and *the presence* of so many Black women writers. Chimamanda Adiche received a rock star’s welcome before her jam packed discussion with Ta-Nehisi Coates. So much pressure on them to be brilliant at all times it seems. They both handled it with humility and thoughtfulness, with the help of easygoing moderation by DC’s own Ethelbert Miller.
Best panel I attended? Maybe this one:
The Written Orality of Hip Hop Lyricism. (Victorio Reyes, Derik Smith, Tara Betts, Jonah Mixon-Webster) From the early rap record liner notes to the annotation explosion of Genius.com, hip hop artists and audiences have always engaged the written as well as the oral textuality of rap lyrics. However, treating hip hop lyricism as written literature is a fraught proposition. Locating rap at the crossroads of written and oral traditions of African American culture, the panel evaluates rap as a written art that is symbiotically wedded to oral culture.
The presenters were funny, relaxed, passionate and…. prepared. They came with written speeches. Amazing how that works to add substance to a panel discussion, eh? Mixon-Webster breaking down hip hop ad libs had me thinking deeply about ownership of language and art and being creative with language.